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IBM Finding Business Uses for Virtual World 96

Posted by Soulskill
from the next-we-get-virtual-tps-reports dept.
jbrodkin writes "IBM has an unconventional take on virtual worlds for business use. Rather than strictly adhering to the laws of physics, IBM is letting its employees hold virtual meetings up in the air and under water. Employees are also being given wacky chores, such as kicking a giant boulder 1,400 kilometers. The virtual world, known as the Metaverse, has been in development for two years. Michael Ackerbauer of IBM says, 'I'd say more people are still finding it a novelty than a business tool. But ... if you build enough tools that they can use, they will come.'" IBM seems to be following a trend of involvement in virtual worlds, which we have previously discussed.
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IBM Finding Business Uses for Virtual World

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  • Whacky chores? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @10:48PM (#21774770)
    Next share holder's meeting could be interesting?

    "So Mr CEO, instead of letting the employees do something useful and making the shareholders some money you have them running around in pixel land kicking rocks? Even Microsoft and Zune makes more sense than that!"

    • by the_humeister (922869) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @11:07PM (#21774920)
      No, it'll be held in the virtual world and the shareholders will be kicking rocks around.
      • Don't kick my rocks, dude!

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jacquesm (154384)
        Neal Stephenson will hopefully get a big lump of stock in the metaverse.
        Probably the end-point of convergence for all the media that we have today is something like the metaverse but I highly doubt if we have the technology to do it today, and that will likely cause a misfire like the early attempts at virtual reality.
        This kind of environment either works or it fails, there is no 'halfway there', immersion is not something you do on the cheap or with bad hardware. That just leads to frustration.
        It's interes
        • Personally I think IBM should have thought twice... it's really a pseudonym for a world that our current technology can't come to grips with. Bringing the whole Snowcrash equation into things does scare me to.

          Then again, if they have cracked it, I want a go...
    • Re:Whacky chores? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by timeOday (582209) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @11:49PM (#21775238)
      "instead of letting the employees do something useful and making the shareholders some money you have them running around in pixel land kicking rocks?"

      Same thing could have been said of the "Word Wide Web" 12 years ago. The browser as we know it might not be the primary interface to the Internet in a decade.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by eln (21727)
        It's not really about the interface, it's about them doing stupid crap like kicking boulders around or swimming around underwater when they should be paying attention to what's being said in the meeting.

        I have no problems with using virtual worlds as a venue for some sort of team building exercise or something, but I don't see how being in this environment would be useful for a meeting where actual information is expected to be absorbed. For meetings at a distance, you need something like the web conferenc
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by tlhIngan (30335)

          It's not really about the interface, it's about them doing stupid crap like kicking boulders around or swimming around underwater when they should be paying attention to what's being said in the meeting.

          I have no problems with using virtual worlds as a venue for some sort of team building exercise or something, but I don't see how being in this environment would be useful for a meeting where actual information is expected to be absorbed. For meetings at a distance, you need something like the web conferenci

          • If you're thinking about kicking boulders around, you're not thinking about the problem at hand. If the meeting isn't engaging you, how about alt-tabbing over to a different window and getting some real work done while you listen with half an ear to the meeting in the background? I have to wonder how much of this is geared toward recruiting members of the Shortest-Attention-Span Generation. If your competitor is letting people attend meetings in v-space, maybe you'd better too. Actually, that's just one
            • by tlhIngan (30335)

              If you're thinking about kicking boulders around, you're not thinking about the problem at hand. If the meeting isn't engaging you, how about alt-tabbing over to a different window and getting some real work done while you listen with half an ear to the meeting in the background? I have to wonder how much of this is geared toward recruiting members of the Shortest-Attention-Span Generation. If your competitor is letting people attend meetings in v-space, maybe you'd better too. Actually, that's just one of

          • About the boulders (Score:4, Interesting)

            by jscribner (546453) on Friday December 21, 2007 @04:07PM (#21783492) Homepage
            As metaverse is an experimental system, the boulder was merely created as part of our development work. We left the boulder in there figuring if we gave users a ball, they'd play with it. We wanted to encourage their exploration of this medium and thereby discover value. Right now, we're entirely focused on getting to the right questions about internal virtual worlds, rather than setting out to immediately seize upon business value.

            So far, the boulder has primarily been used to teach employees how to interact and cooperate in the world, but we've been surprised how much it acts as a focal point for people in-world. People are drawn together to play with it, without any direct benefit or goal.
        • Well this provides the oppurtunity to begin developing UMCV's (unmanned construction vehicles) for use underwater/moon/mars/asteroids and what ever. Isn't that a good thing?
        • IBM needs a way for its employees to interact beyond the teleconference and to connect across geographies. We've accepted that meetings are an inescapable part of our corporate culture, but we also recognize that shorter, focused meetings will make us more productive. Internal virtual worlds give "I've Been Meeting" (as some affectionately call us) the opportunity to improve on meetings themselves, and experiment with more interactive and effective approaches to them.

          Perhaps the most interesting thing
    • You've never been part of a mega-corporation that believes in team-building exercises, have you? I'm pretty sure that, in the realm of team-building exercises, moving a virtual boulder 1400km is relatively productive.
      • Oh, if your name is Scott Adams, it will be.
        Stand by for a "business idiocy" strip boom, as Wally, Catbert, Dogbert and the PHB get their own strips just to handle the tshi'nami this will cause.
    • Next share holder's meeting could be interesting?
      It sure will. http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=RedLyae4b2s [youtube.com]
    • instead of letting the employees do something useful and making the shareholders some money you have them running around in pixel land kicking rocks?

      I've been in plenty of meetings where that would have in fact been a lot more productive.

      What if the developers of Taligent had kicked pixelated rocks instead of wasting a lot of time on something that never flew?

      And frankly, I'd be happy if more than half of Congress's term consisted of kicking virtual rocks instead of passing more bad laws...

      Basically, I'm pr
    • but what if the shareholder's convention is virtually held on a mountain top and you have to defeat an ogre and an evil mage to get there?
  • by starglider29a (719559) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @10:55PM (#21774830)
    "I kicked a boulder 1400 meters... and my boss told me to get serious, so I kicked him 1666 meters."
  • I guess that the boulder thing is kinda cool, but will it run Linux? Will SCO sue them if it will?
  • What's the business use of holding meetings under virtual water?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I would presume it's an environment they agreed upon because they thought it would be more interesting than a plain grassy field. Which would make the meeting much more bearable than a boring office setting, or no virtual environment at all, simply "boring, painful, business-as-usual" IM/VOIP.
    • by RuBLed (995686)
      So you would not get ganked halfway in the meeting by some M$Noobs..
    • by Unoti (731964) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @11:40PM (#21775184) Journal

      The locale, sounds, environment, and general "feel" of a meeting can really impact the way the participants think. We've seen studies here before about high ceilings encouraging open creative thought, while low ceilings encourages disciplined thought. Different kinds of locations can help make the people feel more relaxed, fun, or whatever. Try having conversations with people in second life in different locales and see what you think.

      There's some precedent for this. The Disney Imagineering process involves separating development into separate meetings for the "dreaming" phase and "critic" phase. In the dreamer phase, any idea is ok to present, no matter how impractical. In the critic phase, you shoot holes in ideas. Disney would hold the dreamer meetings in open, comfy places; and hold the critic meetings in more enclosed, trashy places. These ideas work in the real world.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Unoti (731964)
        Take my zoo, for example, in Second Life. There's all kinds of crazy things there-- missles that lunach and drop parachuting ducks that throw snowballs at you on their way down, gophers that eat flowers, a giant elephant that juggles people, and so on. People are always in there laughing their asses off, riding the animals around a race track and generally having a good time. There's voice chat, and I can hear them laughing. The environment provides stimulus and gives the people something to do, think, an
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Unoti (731964)

        Another example. Today there was a Linden Labs business meeting with 80 or so people. After the meeting, they had a huge snowball fight together-- and many of the employees built their own snowball trebuchets and whatever. Also, lots of the people made their own Christmas costumes.

        Some might say "so what" or "get a first life", but those people would likely also say that real life business parties serve no purpose, also. I say it's a good thing-- a bunch of the people have some fun together, they rub el

      • by Torvaun (1040898)
        This is reminding me of this guy, [thisspartanlife.com] who conducts a talk show in Halo 2. It seems to have gone progressively downhill, but the first couple episodes are worth watching.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Alpha830RulZ (939527)
      If Steve Jobs did it, we'd be cooing about his avante garde leadership. If you were trying to keep your best and brightest people, wouldn't this be kind of a good way to keep those people motivated? Wouldn't demonstrating that your company can do something pretty cool, and not being real uptight about letting them have some fun with it, as part of a major company meeting, wouldn't that be kind of a good way to keep those people happy and possibly more contented and pleased with his place of employment? Wo
    • If its anything like this underwater "meeting" [youtube.com], I'm sure the higher-ups would have a lot of explaining to do.
    • by arivanov (12034)
      Ensuring that noone speaks at the same time. If you set the virtual world conditions so you have to pop-up to breath at the same time you can see who is preparing to speak. Anyway, this is just my guess. There are tons of moderately insane approaches to "facilitate collaboration" during a meeting at the moment in real life, so not surprising that the "facilitator parasites" are having a ball in virtual.

      Anyway, I would love to have access to something like that. I work in a team that spans the globe and we h
      • by Unoti (731964)

        Anyway, I would love to have access to something like that.

        You do have access to something like that: Second Life. I do a lot of work in Second Life, in fact business I do there is my primary income source. I'm honestly not understanding your reasons for hating it. You say you'd love to have access to something like that, yet your reasons you list for hating it ring pretty hollow:

        1. They're "Sadville wankers", sorry this means nothing to me and it's just name-calling anyway, what's your point here?

        2.

        • by arivanov (12034)
          And if you just want a meeting space to collaborate, what amazing content are you going to produce that you're worried about. Designs for something with roughly 2-8 billions of CapEx per year, a couple of billions of OpEx per year and corresponding revenue. Some of it subject to security clearance constraints. Based on the current SL license using it for something like this is a "sorry, no go". Not a way in hell.

          As I said, it is a Sadville wank, it is not a business tool.

    • by Jawnn (445279)
      Yes.
      Start by asking yourself, what's the business use of holding meetings in any particular location?
      We could back up even further and question the use of meetings themselves, but that is quite another debate. The point is that, as long as the location allows the meetings normal processes to take place, it does not matter where that location, or virtual location is.
      • Start by asking yourself, what's the business use of holding meetings in any particular location?
        Convenience and availability for the most part.
  • This was done, to some extent, in various text-based systems way back when. To what extent, I'm really not certain, but there were at least a few dedicated to that sort of thing. Just a little bit of history repeating.
  • Oblig (Score:5, Funny)

    by Eevee1 (1147279) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @11:25PM (#21775058)
    World of IBMcraft. Every year, all employees get an expansion pack that lets them become a female elf with bigger boobs.
  • by Lordfly (590616) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @11:26PM (#21775062) Homepage Journal
    ..."More like get a First Life roflburgers!" comments.

    I know it's hard to believe, but business DOES transpire in virtual worlds, just like it does in (gasp!) Skype and (double gasp!) AIM.

  • Mentality (Score:2, Insightful)

    by HandsOnFire (1059486)
    "if you build enough tools that they can use, they will come"

    I've seen so many failed projects happen simply because there was no interest, despite the fact there was plenty of capital investment.

    I think things should start with an idea and a goal as opposed to "hey, lets spend a ton of time and energy making this rnadom thing and seeing what happens" It could work for science experiments and I think it's a great thing to do on the small scale, but why take 2 on business meetings in the virtual world?

    How
    • 3D environments, in my opinion do not provide enough capability to show this facet of communication anywhere near proper.
      Here, let me fix this for you... 3D environments, in my opinion do not provide enough capability to show this facet of communication anywhere near proper *YET*.

      So why not put the technology in place now?
    • by Switchback (6988)
      All very good questions. I'll mention right now that I am one of the software engineers on the project and my comments are my own, and do not reflect IBM.

      That said, IBM sees a lot of potential in virtual worlds. Metaverse, specifically has two primary goals:
      1) It's targeted for internal business use, so it must be secure. Users are all securely identified - no impersonating. We are looking at anonymity for certain situations. Being internal means we should be able to hook up to any and all web services
  • by dave562 (969951) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @11:31PM (#21775108) Journal
    To be fair I absolutely love Snow Crash and think it was a great book. But come on IBM, get real! Why not invest in some of that nifty Cisco infrastructure that allows you to communicate with anyone anywhere? That seems a lot more productive than logging onto some virtual under water world so that everyone can conference with silly looking avatars.
  • by Alwin Henseler (640539) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @11:36PM (#21775150) Homepage

    Perhaps people should be more careful to use the word 'virtual' in an ICT sense. As if the 1's and 0's recorded on your harddrive don't exist, just because they represent imaginary worlds. That is nonsense.

    At a critical moment, a miniscule group of electrons may ultimately determine whether a space shuttle makes it into earth orbit, or crashes into the ocean. A tiny magnetic area on your harddisk may determine whether you see a folder with your vacation pics on your desktop, or not. A single bit flipped in transit (due to some electromagnetic disturbance, or whatever) may cause an industrial robot to move a millimeter off the mark & junk the product passing underneath. What I'm trying to say: the environment may be imaginary for a great part, but these small groups of electrons, magnetic area's etc. are very real, and so is the effect they can have.

    There's no such thing as a virtual meeting. With 10 participants, that's 10 people communicating with each other at the same time, like in any other real-world meeting. When you're dealing with bots, that's just you interacting with some company's ICT infrastructure, similar to shopping in a webstore or reading /.

    Sure, the interface is radically different, but other than that it's just: communication. As creatures have done since the 1st braincell developed.

    • by jd (1658)
      There are many perspectives, one being that matter is just organized energy and therefore nothing physical is "real". Alternatively, matter is 99.9999% empty space, only the electromagnetic and nuclear forces create the illusion of solidness. Finally, there is no obvious way to distinguish between a physical universe and a simulated one, provided it is a consistant, bug-free simulation. All that being the case, what constitutes virtual?
    • by mea37 (1201159)
      The bits are real. The world they represent is not. The usage of "virtual" is correct, as it modifies "world" and not "bits".

      "Ce n'est pas un monde."
    • Yes, a real meeting in a virtual environment, like in the clouds or under water. To contrast, in a game like The Sims, you might have virtual businesspeople having virtual meetings; none of it is real, even though the person watching/interacting with the game might base decisions on what happens in the game. If only politicians had a clear grasp on fantasy and reality when it came to video games with virtual violence in them, as the player simply pressed buttons...
  • Do you think that my being faster has ANYTHING to do with my muscles, in this place?
    You think thats AIR you're breathing?

    AGAIN.
  • by PrescriptionWarning (932687) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @11:47PM (#21775216)
    http://youtube.com/watch?v=CcxKHjdTQKs [youtube.com]

    Dwight: "Second life doesn't have winners or losers."

    Jim: "Oh, it has losers."
    • Actually, I am the guy in the video. It's not my second life. Nor is it my second second life. It's my third life... err perhaps I divulging too much
  • I'd be blown away if IBM managed to pull off a seriously big innovation with this, as free-thinking is not their strongpoint.

    They are, however, pretty good at implementation, I think.  Maybe.
  • So IBM finally found a way to invent magic pixie dust [youtube.com], a reality detector [youtube.com], the On Demand game show [youtube.com], a universal business adapter [youtube.com], the other IBM [youtube.com], and a method of defeating a giant sloth [youtube.com].
  • cool me want
  • What would be cool would be direct interaction with the brain to make it feel like participants are truly immersed in the virtual world--like what's in Arthur C. Clarke's The Light of Other Days. Hopefully one day...
  • Adopting the viewpoint of the article, the web itself is a metaverse in which the laws of physics are suspended. I find it a little funny though that the article doesn't seem to acknowledge this obvious fact: it is as if the article takes as given that the web is more real, less virtual, than the virtual worlds it discusses. Wow! epistemologically, it would seem, we have come a long way in some 10 short years!!
    • I think the parent makes an insightful comment, in that the immersive worlds of SL or any MMORPG are the same bits-and-bytes that more traditional (if you can call something relatively new "traditional") World Wide Web pages, so maybe a "real-not real" distinction isn't the most helpful way of understanding the phenomenon. When I first met my wife (though eHarmony) to most of the older people in my life, in particular those less web-savvy, did not equate our electronic communication as a "relationship" in t
  • My guild comes up with some of the most interesting non-game related ideas while working on raids and whatnot. Vent makes for a very interactive situation.
    • by Nephrite (82592)
      And I've heard about some million scale contracts were concluded in raids in WoW. Seriously.
  • by SamP2 (1097897) on Friday December 21, 2007 @09:13AM (#21777842)

    Employees are also being given wacky chores, such as kicking a giant boulder 1,400 kilometers
    In recent developments, Sisyphus's [wikipedia.org] lawyers have announced that their client will sue IBM for business method patent [wikipedia.org] infringement.
  • I may be wrong but IIRC IBM employees do have a dress code for second life. I believe for example they are not allowed dress up as animals.

    Also the article seemed more like an advert. "Can't see each other" so they go onto virtual world? News flash you still can't see them, but you can be distracted more. Just buy a web cam.
  • I've pondered and pondered and pondered and yet I still can't find a viable business case for virtual worlds such as second life. I'm sure eventually one might be found, but under the current conditions, I just can't see any reason why a business would want to invest in this market until it becomes more mature.
    Additionally, as a younger techie, I see companies consistently using this as a ploy to hire and maintain us. Thinking that if they look innovative enough, we may just want to stay with this company.
  • by DrVomact (726065) on Friday December 21, 2007 @12:59PM (#21780606) Journal

    Heck, this could do wonders for working from home. You could log into the virtual office on Mount Olympus, levitate to your workstation that is set up on an otherwise inaccessible crag, and do your work. I don't know about you, but I could write great code a mile above the Aegean Sea, with eagles hovering nearby. If people wanted to talk to me, they could always levitate on up to my aerie...as long as their level is high enough to have the Levitate spell, anyway. I'd still avoid meetings, though—I don't care whether they're held on top of clouds or caves full of glowing lava, meetings suck.

    There would be some drawbacks, of course: for instance, my PBH would insist on an avatar that looks like Zeus. Ah, no problemo--I'll just hack the system so he looks like Goofy to everyone else...he'll never notice. While I'm at it, I'll make some...er...enhancements to the female avatars.

    Seriously, I'm sorta serious. The tech is getting better, and gas prices ain't going down. Sooner rather than later, businesses are going to have to make the adjustment to letting those who have jobs that can be done from home do so.

  • Download a new one.
  • As long as they don't have anonymous cybersex during my presentation...
  • IBM doesn't necessarily follow trends. It invests in areas where it thinks it can make money. They've been on the Second Life bandwagon for a while now, and they've built quite a presence and have tutorials on DeveloperWorks about developing content for SecondLife using Rational Application Developer.
  • Although I had heard about their Virtual Universe [csd.uwo.ca] product and other things.

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